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Toyota Only the Latest to Dream of Launching a Flying Car

Patent application shows unique approach to fold-away wings.

by on Sep.11, 2015

A patent application showing Toyota's "aerocar" concept with its foldaway wings.

Wouldn’t it be great to fly home after a long day’s work – quite literally taking to the air rather than getting stuck in a traffic jam? That’s a fantasy nearly as old as the auto industry itself, and now, it seems, Japanese giant Toyota Motor Co. may be working up plans to develop a flying automobile, at least according to a recent patent filing.

How serious Toyota is about building a flying car the company isn’t saying, but it wouldn’t be nearly the first to give the idea a try. Industry pioneer Henry Ford was an early proponent, abandoning the idea of a flying version of his Model T only after the fatal crash of a friend and chief co-pilot. Meanwhile, a group of MIT grads has already begun testing their own flying car concept even as a Defense Department research group explores the idea of sending soldiers into battle on a flying motorcycle.

The Last Word!

Forget Blade Runner, or the Jetsons, for that matter. Few expect to see a world in which commuters routinely take to the air anytime soon. But proponents believe that at least some well-heeled motorists could leapfrog traffic in the not-too-distant future.


If Cars Could Fly or Planes Could Drive?

Another flying car project has left the ground, sort of.

by on Mar.23, 2009

The dream of a flying car persists against all odds.

The dream of a flying car persists against all odds.

After six months of testing, a flying car has taken to the air over the runway at Plattsburgh International Airport in New York.  The “Transition” light sport aircraft has design goals of 450 miles of cruising flight at speeds up to 115 mph once development, testing and FAA certification are complete — processes that could take years if they are ever accomplished at all.

The unique, proof of concept contraption, four years in the making, has front-wheel drive for road use with a claimed top speed of 60 mph and unspecified “automotive safety” features. A pusher propeller is used for flight. A Federal Aviation Administration Sport Pilot license will be needed to fly it, and even then only in good weather conditions.

Both air and road modes are powered by unleaded gasoline from a regular service station, and the wings fold electronically in just 30 seconds, a feature that is presumably over-ridden when the four wheels are off the ground.

“This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility. Travel now becomes a hassle-free integrated land-air experience. It’s what aviation enthusiasts have been striving for since 1918,” says Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia (terra-FOO-gee-ah), a start-up company founded in 2006 by five graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Terra fugia is Latin for escape from land.)

It’s not clear to me what the significance of the 1918 date is. The Wright bothers of course first flew on December 17, 1903 after years of research with kites and gliders that they designed, built, tested and flew.

The Transition test is similar though to the first Wright flight since it was short, very short, less than 30 seconds in duration. The two-seat plane stayed about a wing’s length above the runway for what looked to be 3,000 feet, then quickly landed again. This means that lift was increased from what’s known as “ground effect,” whereby drag is reduced and speed is increased since proximity to the ground reduces wingtip vortices and their consequences.

Whether the Transition has enough power to climb out of ground effect and fly on its own is another matter entirely. This didn’t stop TV news readers from gushing about the project with their usual insight and perspective. The plane —  whether it ultimately works or not — will no doubt be a star on the air show circuit since it taps into primeval needs for mobility and whimsy. (more…)